Archive | March 2015

2013 Corvidae Wise Guy Sauvignon Blanc

I’m chilling at home with Oliver, after working all day and going for a nice walk with friends after work.  I opened a bottle of the 2013 Corvidae Wise Guy Sauvignon Blanc.  Corvidae is a second label of Owen Roe, a winery with production facilities in Washington and Oregon.  We had it for the first time when we visited Owen Roe’s Yakima tasting room in January (they were one of the few that were open!).

2013 Corvidae Sauvignon Blanc - Isn't this an awesome label?

2013 Corvidae Sauvignon Blanc – Isn’t this an awesome label?

The wine is a pale straw color, with a crisp nose of lemongrass.  On the palate this wine is crisp and clean, with a slight tartness and flavors of lemongrass, lychee and pineapple.  It is a great wine, and retails for only $10.  At that price, I should have purchased a whole case!  It looks like the Sauvignon Blanc is sold out at the winery, so be sure to snatch this wine up if you find it out and about.

Oh, and they totally get bonus points for the label!  Check out the crow’s legs!

Happy Tuesday Everybody!

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

Ridgefield’s claim to fame, as near as I can tell, is the Sandhill Cranes that head through on the way to their winter grounds. They come through in November, and we tried to go then, but the weekend that Jon had off it was pouring down rain west of the Cascades, and pouring down snow in the Cascades. Coincidentally, this was pretty much the only snow that the mountains received all winter, but that’s a bit off topic…

So, convinced that it would be a waste of time and money to go see Sandhill Cranes, who would likely be hiding somewhere else, and even if they were out we wouldn’t be able to see them in the deluge, we postponed our trip to our next weekend off together. If you follow this blog, you know that Jon and I typically only get 3 days off together per month, so our next weekend off together was in December.

The weather was very rainy, but certainly no worse than a typical December day in the Pacific Northwest.  I wish I could have gotten better pictures, but it was a pretty dark day, so I did what I could.  As we expected, the Sandhill Cranes were already gone, having moved further south, but we did see lots of other cool birds.

A Great Blue Heron checking us out.

A Great Blue Heron checking us out.

A Great Blue Heron looking for its next meal.

A Great Blue Heron looking for its next meal.

Ironically, Ridgefield wasn’t created to protect the Sandhill Cranes, but rather the Dusky Geese, whose migratory landing spots in Alaska were destroyed by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 1964. Which just goes to show that there really is a big connection when you think about the living world.

A Hooded Merganser at Ridgefield

A Hooded Merganser at Ridgefield

Dusky Geese look like shorter, smaller and slightly fatter Canada Geese to me, with a bit more blurred facial markings, and darker brown chests (that’s called a breast in the bird world). They are actually considered a subspecies of Canada Geese, along with several other subspecies, which are often so similar that even the experts have trouble telling them apart. Apparently, it’s a DNA thing. Which now leads me to wonder if all the Canada Geese I’ve been seeing my whole life are Canada Geese at all. But, if the experts can’t tell them apart, then they can’t really expect me to either.

Dusky Geese - They look a lot like Canada Geese to me.

Dusky Geese – They look a lot like Canada Geese to me.

And we saw nutria! If you don’t know what a nutria is, just imagine a giant rat crossed with a beaver. Or look at the picture below. The good thing about nutria is that a casual observer can tell them apart from rats and from beavers too. Nutria are native to South America, but of course, some moron 100 years ago decided it would be great to bring them here as pets, and then other morons decided it would be a good idea to release them into the wild when they turned out to not be such great pets, and the nutria decided that the climate of northern Oregon and Southern Washington is wonderful and set about eating their way through the marshes here. That’s the short version of what probably is a much longer story.

The first Nutria we saw at the refuge.

The first Nutria we saw at the refuge.

Nutria are actually pretty destructive, but here they are. We saw two that day, waist deep in the marsh, happily chewing vegetation in the rain without a care in the world. Of course, they might have been wondering if those geese over there were Canada Geese or Dusky Geese…

This is the second Nutria we saw - this photo shows his rat-like tail.

This is the second Nutria we saw – this photo shows his rat-like tail.

We also saw one hawk (I wasn’t able to get a great picture), three Blue Herons, and a gazillion Northern Pintails, Mallards, American Coots, Tundra Swans and the aforementioned Dusky Geese.

A hawk at Ridgefield - maybe a Red Tailed Hawk?

A hawk at Ridgefield – maybe a Red Tailed Hawk?

Tundra Swans - They like to do butts up too!

Tundra Swans – They like to do butts up too!

Despite the rain that fell the whole time we were there, and got all over the doors of the car and my camera when we had the windows open to take pictures, we had a good time. Jon’s favorite sighting of the day was the nutria, and I have to admit, I enjoyed seeing them too. I also liked seeing the Northern Pintails, especially when they go “butts up!”

A male Northern Pintail doing butts up!

A male Northern Pintail doing butts up!

Have you been to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge?  What was your favorite animal?


I find myself anguished by this week’s plane crash in the French Alps. More saddened than I would normally be to hear about mass tragedy in another part of the world. That’s not to say that I don’t reflect on the blessings I have whenever I hear about something so tragic, but this one seems different. Perhaps it is because Jon and I had flown home from our vacation in Utah just the day before, on two different small, regional jets.

The news that investigators believe that the crash was a deliberate act by the copilot is heartbreaking. Maybe most heartbreaking because of the fact that it wasn’t all that shocking to hear. We live in a world where things like this happen more often than any of us would like to admit. In 1999, the crash of an EgyptAir jet is widely believed by U.S. investigators to have been caused by a suicidal pilot. Egyptian officials were not able to come to grips with that, and still maintain that the plane crashed due to a mechanical failure. There are others, plane crashes, car crashes, either proven or suspected to have been caused by someone’s suicide.

The fact that the copilot of that Germanwings plane, a young man with most of his life still ahead of him, was consumed by such deep despair that he would end his own life and take 149 others with him is incomprehensible to me. No outward sign of rage or grief from that cockpit audio. No reaction to the sound of the pilot frantically trying to get back in; no reaction to the sound of the terrified screams in those last moments – just silence. How does someone have such a disregard for life that they could calmly and quietly fly a plane into a mountain?

We have known for awhile that the mental health system is broken in the United States – that we need to make drastic changes in order to stop the cycle of tragedies occurring here.  Apparently, the U.S. is not alone.  We have moved from a culture of institutionalization, to a culture where involuntary commitment is an insurmountable hurdle.  Where innocent lives are at risk due to our inability to intervene.  There has to be some middle ground.

I reflect on the random collision of events that spelled the end for those passengers, simply due to a chance encounter on a flight with this particular man. How do I reconcile that knowledge without giving up hope that the world is still a beautiful place?

Perhaps the last stanza of my favorite poem, Desiderata, written in 1927 by Max Ehrmann, sums it up best. “Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”

My prayers are with those families. May they find solace.

MI Road Trip: Wine in a Hospital

After visiting the Mission Point Lighthouse, we got back on the road and headed back toward town, deciding to stop along the way at Brys Estate Winery.  It was recommended by the server at Douglas Valley Winery, so I was curious to try it.  I was surprised by how large Brys Estate is – it started as a retirement project and the winery now produces several thousand cases annually. The tasting is unique – instead of bellying up to the tasting bar, they have visitors going through four different tasting stations.  It seemed like we were at a special event, but apparently that’s just how they do their tasting now.

Brys Estate Winery

Brys Estate Winery

At each station we chose between two wines; Jon and I selected different wines at each station so we could get to sample all of them.  The wines were all good, ranging from Rieslings to Cabernet Franc to Pinot Noir, but nothing stood out in my memory as amazing.  Their servers were all friendly and knowledgeable, but it was awkward at the end. After we finished at the last station, we ended up back in the main tasting room. If you want to buy wine, you have to find it yourself on their ‘wall o’ wine’, and it just seemed kind of impersonal.

The Brys Estate Outdoor Chairs - they would be heavenly on a cold day.

The Brys Estate Outdoor Chairs – they would be heavenly on a cold day.

We dropped by a brewery on the Old Mission Peninsula next, hoping to get some lunch and a beer, but the place was crawling and the wait was going to be 90 minutes! Umm… no thanks! So we headed back into town to see what we could find at our next stop, Grand Traverse Commons.

The Grand Traverse Commons is a large retail/housing development that redeveloped the old Traverse City State Hospital.  The hospital was founded in 1881, and opened to patients in 1885.  It was an asylum for patients with mental illnesses, although at times its mission was expanded to provide care for patients with tuberculosis, polio, influenza and diphtheria.

The Front of the Main Building at Grand Traverse Commons

The Front of the Main Building at Grand Traverse Commons

Many of the patients hospitalized there were able to function on varying levels – at the time it was commonplace to institutionalize people with mental illnesses that would not typically result in hospitalization today; illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, post-partum depression or anxiety disorders.

Long before drug therapy was commonplace, the hospital set about to try to provide cutting edge therapy that helped people with mental illness be productive within the hospital. Restraint devices like straightjackets were prohibited. The first superintendent, Dr. James Decker Munson, developed a “beauty is therapy” program. He believed that beauty could be therapeutic, so the hospital had greenhouses to produce flowers year round. Additionally, he developed a farm that allowed the hospital to be self-sustaining, and also allowed many of the patients to have jobs that contributed to feelings of self-worth. The farm raised milk cows, beef cows, pigs, chickens and horses, and farmed vegetables.

The Spires of the Main Building at Grand Traverse Commons

The Spires of the Main Building at Grand Traverse Commons

The hospital population slowly declined due to the changes that came about in the mental health system that eliminated institutionalization as an option for all but the most severely affected individuals, and the Traverse City State Hospital closed its doors in 1989. Redevelopment came slowly, but Building 50 – the main administration building of the hospital, has now been redeveloped into a multi-use building, with shops, restaurants and condos.

We found an Italian restaurant called Trattoria Stella and got some lunch. I had the mushroom soup (fantastic!) and a risotto with fried egg, chives, sweet pea, rosemary, Parmesan and cream.  I had high hopes for the risotto but it was WAY too salty… I also had the Black Star Farms sparkling wine, and loved it. Jon had the minestrone soup (he loved it) and a beet salad with mozzarella, onions and kalamata olives that was delicious as well. He paired his with a Dark Horse Brewery Crooked Tree IPA. After lunch, we wandered around the grounds for a little while; Jon was a sport to let me take photos of the redeveloped buildings and the still abandoned ones, even though he was freezing.

Jon's Beet Salad at Trattoria Stella

Jon’s Beet Salad at Trattoria Stella

Features on an unrestored building at Grand Traverse Commons

Features on an unrestored building at Grand Traverse Commons

While we were at the Grand Traverse Commons, we decided to check out the Black Star Tasting room as well.  You could opt for a wine tasting or a distilled spirits tasting. I picked the wine, Jon picked the spirits. I found several that I enjoyed and ended up buying two wines to take home, including their Blushed sparkling wine. Jon purchased a bottle of craft Peninsula Gin from Grand Traverse Distillery.

Wine Bottles at Black Star Farms Tasting Room

Wine Bottles at Black Star Farms Tasting Room

And with that, we made our way back to the car to find our way to my aunt and uncle’s house. We had a couple of hours of driving ahead of us, according to Google Maps, so I was a bit surprised to find that our GPS was telling me it would take almost 4 hours to get to my aunt’s house! There didn’t seem to be any traffic! I had been driving along in this state of confusion for almost a half an hour when I suddenly realized that the day before I had set the route preferences to avoid highways, so we could see the more scenic route. But now we wanted to go the more direct way. OOPS!

Once we changed the settings, our arrival time moved up significantly! We got to my aunt and uncle’s house just after the rest of the family finished up dinner, so we were able to get some food and spend some time catching up with the family. The next day there was a family reunion, but our brief tour of Michigan had drawn to a close…

MI Road Trip: Traverse City Eats and Lights

In my last post, we wrapped up with a gorgeous sunset from a viewpoint on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  It was about a 45 minute drive to Traverse City, so we ended up having a very late dinner at The Filling Station Brewery.  I had scoured the tourism magazines while Jon drove to find a brewery that also offered food.  By the time we got there, I was ready to chew my arm off!

The Filling Station is aptly named, because it resides in an old train station. It is decorated with a 1960s décor, with lots of bright orange plastic. To drink, Jon had the Walla Walla IPA, and I had the Long Lake Red Ale. For dinner, we split the Cannonball Flatbread and The Conductor salad. The Cannonball had marinara sauce, Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, feta, red onions, fresh rosemary and mozzarella. The Conductor was made with artisan greens, cherry tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, prosciutto, red onion, blue cheese and a house made buttermilk ranch dressing. The food was delicious and really hit the spot after our challenging hike earlier.

The Conductor Salad at The Filling Station Brewery

The Conductor Salad at The Filling Station Brewery

We spent the night at the Travelodge in Traverse City.  They were overbooked for the night, so we ended up getting upgraded to what might have been the biggest room in any Travelodge ever!  It clearly had been the manager’s apartment at one point, and had a full kitchen, two bathrooms, a living room, a small alcove room with bunkbeds, and a bedroom, with a luxurious, memory foam mattress.  It was almost a shame to only be spending 12 hours there.

In the morning, we made our way out onto the Old Mission Peninsula. The peninsula is 19 miles long and 3 miles wide, dotted with fruit orchards, wineries and vineyards, and with a historic lighthouse smack-dab at the very end. My kind of place! The Mission Point Lighthouse was built in 1870 looking out at the West Grand Traverse Bay, as a result of a shipwreck in 1860 right in front of where the lighthouse now stands (the construction delay was due to the Civil War).

The View From the Old Mission Peninsula

The View From the Old Mission Peninsula

The lighthouse is 36 feet tall, but sits on a sand bank, which makes the light’s focal height 47 feet; it was lit with a Fifth Order Fresnel lens. The lighthouse was tended between 1870 and 1933 with a series of lighthouse keepers, and it is unusual because Mission Point had a woman lighthouse keeper! Sarah Lane tended the light with her husband Captain John Lane for 24 years, and she continued alone for almost four months after her husband died in December 1906.

The Mission Point Lighthouse

The Mission Point Lighthouse

In 1933, the lighthouse was decommissioned, with an automated light mounted nearby. Between 1933 and 1948, the lighthouse stood empty. The residents of Traverse City took up a collection and raised enough money for the city to purchase the lighthouse and the adjacent land. Over the years, caretakers lived there and restored it. And recently, the Coast Guard loaned the lighthouse a Fifth Order Fresnel lens to display (the original had been removed when the lighthouse closed in 1933). The Mission Point Lighthouse is on both the National and the State Historic Registers.

A Fifth Order Fresnel Lens on Display

A Fifth Order Fresnel Lens on Display

The lighthouse was open, with a small exhibit and gift shop on the first floor. For a modest donation, you can tour the upstairs (of course we did!).  Be sure to sign in to their guest book with your hometown; they receive grant money in larger amounts when visitors come from further away.  The second floor contains the bedroom of the keeper’s living quarters, with information about the keepers that served the lighthouse over the years. The top floor is accessed by a narrow, ladder staircase; once at the top you have a 360 degree view. The water is in front of the lighthouse and on one side and the other two sides have a forest view.

I enjoyed being at the top looking out, imagining what it would have been like when this was an isolated place. Although it was a cold day, it was very clear and peaceful.

The View from the Lighthouse

The View from the Lighthouse

After visiting the lighthouse, we also stopped by the Hessler log cabin, which was originally built between 1854 and 1856, by Joseph and Mary Hessler. Constructed from hemlock and white pine, it was a family home for several years, before being used throughout the years as a storage building, living quarters for cherry pickers, and a barn for a bull. It was moved to this location from elsewhere on the peninsula. You can peek inside and see how small the cabin is – it would have been interesting to live there as a family. It makes you appreciate the luxuries we enjoy today!

The Hessler Cabin at the Mission Point Lighthouse

The Hessler Cabin at the Mission Point Lighthouse

Of course, we couldn’t stay too long, because we had other places we wanted to visit!

Have you been to the Mission Point Lighthouse and climbed to the top?

Book Review: Triumph: Life After the Cult – A Survivor’s Lessons

Triumph is a different kind of story; one that, like me, you will probably admit you never really considered. Imagine a story of psychological and physical abuse, isolation from family and the outside world, and systematic brain-washing and mind control. This isn’t a story of an isolated military prison; this is occurring every day in fundamentalist polygamist sects.

Carolyn Jessop is one of the rare, lucky women who made her escape, with her eight children, after living in this heavily controlled sect for over 35 years.

The story begins with Carolyn providing advice to the team of social workers and child welfare advocates who were working for the state of Texas after a state and federal raid on the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) ranch, a closed polygamist community called the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, controlled by self-professed “prophet” Warren Jeffs. If you follow the news, Jeffs is currently serving a prison sentence of life plus 20 years for sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of children. His youngest “wife” was just 12 years old.

Triumph: Life After the Cult - A Survivor's Lessons

Triumph: Life After the Cult – A Survivor’s Lessons

Carolyn details the methods with which the men who lead the sect maintain control – many of which are shocking.  They include:

  • Home School and Isolation – Admittedly, there are some very good home-schooling parents, and Carolyn readily admits this as well. But this sect uses home-schooling as a way to keep the children isolated and uneducated. Most children only get a cursory education, and are pulled from “school” when they get older to work long hours in construction, or to be married off young. In recent years, radios, books and children’s toys have been prohibited within the FLDS communities. This isolation is sometimes coupled with fantastical horror stories of the outside world, effectively preventing escape.
  • Abuse and Disrespect of Women– Sister wives, as they are referred to in the sect, are encouraged to rat each other out to their husbands, for even the most petty of infractions. Not only does it destroy any sort of trust, it leads to a dog-eat-dog world in which wives try to one-up each other in their tattling in order to gain favor with their husband. Women are not permitted to “own” anything, and theft is commonplace. Carolyn tells of locking her bedroom door at all times to prevent her shampoo from being stolen. Children are taught to be disrespectful and belligerent towards women in the household, and only respect the men.
  • Child Abuse – Children are beaten as punishment, often before they even have the capacity to understand what they have done wrong. Any wife in the family is permitted and encouraged to harshly discipline children, and many do.  Wives who stand up to others and refuse to allow the abuse are chastised, marginalized and told they are going to hell for their disrespect.
  • Sexual abuse – Girls are married to men that are often decades older than themselves. There are confirmed reports of girls as young as twelve married to men in their 50s and 60s. Girls often become mothers by the time they are between 14 and 16 years old.
  • The Lost Boys – Since boys and girls tend to be born at fairly even rates, a polygamist community with a handful of powerful men who want to marry several young girls apiece has a problem. Those young girls tend to be more interested in boys their own age. The solution? Trump up some ridiculous charge against a teenage boy – like holding hands with a girl – and expel him from the community.  These Lost Boys are simply dropped off on the highway outside the community with a few dollars in their pocket and only the clothes on their backs.  14 seems to be the usual age.
  • Prohibition on Medical Treatment – In the family Carolyn was married into, it was forbidden to take a child to the doctor without her husband’s permission. She relates the story of her son who contracted pneumonia, and she had to literally beg to be able to take him to the hospital.  Her husband scolded her and her son for causing a scene and being disobedient.  Why wouldn’t they want a sick child to receive medical attention? Presumably because they don’t want doctors to find the signs of abuse.
  • Hunger – Although these communities are to be swimming in money (welfare fraud is a very effective way of earning an income), food is scarce. Women and children go hungry, and are not allowed to buy food that provides proper nutrition.  Most women in the community are overwhelmed with the chores and mealtimes were inconsistent in Carolyn’s family.
  • Financial Control – Most women don’t earn their own money, and their welfare checks go straight to their husbands.  Carolyn was a rare exception, in that she worked as a teacher for a period of time and was able to have a small portion of her paycheck secretly diverted to a savings account.  It wasn’t much, but this small act of defiance undoubtedly helped her to break the cycle of abuse.
  • Excommunication – Even men aren’t immune. If you fall out of favor with the leaders of the cult, they have no qualms about kicking you out either. And if you are married and have children, no worries, your wives and children will simply be assigned to another man. Presto – Change-o!

Carolyn manages to put a face and a voice to a system of systematic abuse that is mostly invisible to those out in the regular world.  She humanizes the plight of these women and children, who typically have no idea that there is another life out there.  Change is desperately needed – hopefully state and federal authorities will stop turning a blind eye to this very real problem.

Have you read Triumph, or Carolyn Jessop’s first book, Escape?

Book Review: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir

This generally hysterical, F-Bomb laden memoir covers the childhood and adult (if you can call it that) life of Jenny Lawson, who gained internet fame as the author of the Bloggess, a humor blog detailing her life. Jenny grew up and came of age in small town Texas (tiny would be more accurate, as her hometown doesn’t even have a stoplight. Even my Grandma’s town has a stoplight…).

She details the antics of her eccentric father, who has a morbid enthusiasm for road kill and live wild animals, and her endlessly patient mother. They raised Jenny and her sister in what is often a chaotic, blood filled environment that would make most elementary age girls squeamish. Stories include being followed to school by marauding turkeys, attacks by raccoons dressed in handmade shorts, taxidermied squirrel puppets, and under the table work that violates most of the child labor and safety statutes currently on the books.

I'm not sure if this mouse is real, but it could be...

I’m not sure if this mouse is real, but it could be…

Jenny certainly has a flair for the dramatic, and she clearly takes liberties with exaggeration. She acknowledges that plainly in the first few pages, by addressing the fact that is only “mostly true.” She leaves the reader to ponder what pieces are the true ones, and there is much that is open to interpretation. Yet, this reader must admit that she does find a way to make the sad tragedies of life into a macabre, train wreck that you just can’t help but watch.

This is certainly not a book for people with weak stomachs who prefer clean language, but if you have a morbid sense of humor, and an appreciation for making fun of the absurd, it will be right up your alley.

It certainly made me laugh out loud, which was sometimes quite awkward as I listened to this as an audio book while walking on the trail. People walking in the opposite direction must have thought I was a bit loony; wandering down the trail chuckling to myself (wouldn’t be the first time I guess, I must look really strange during those books where the dog dies at the end and I’m blubbering all over myself…). I guess my only gripe would be that the book is a little too long; too meandering and with too many attempts to beat the already dead horse into the ground… Which ironically, makes me realize that a dead horse is perhaps the only road kill her father didn’t bring home.

Mom: Don’t read this to Grandma…  Or do – maybe she’d like it – with a beer…

Have you read this? Do you follow her blog?  What did you think?